Visual Reformation

Adam Pendleton’s (b. 1984) shot him in the face is a new collection currently on display at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, the largest exhibition of the American artist to date. IF THE FUNCTION OF WRITING (2017) takes centre stage, setting the precedent for the spatial dialogues ahead – a 17-metre-long wall stretching diagonally across the gallery floor, combining visual art and block-monochrome text in a sensory barrier of information and re-appropriation.

Pendleton has extensively investigated the dialogue between the past and the present throughout a dynamic career, and this show continues to develop recognisable motifs as a call to action: archive material has once again been collected, curated and collaged into abstract black and white representations (or re-presentations). The power of language, particularly in political, philosophical and artistic contexts, is expressed through a long list of cultural references, which take the form of painting, installation, collage, video and live performance in a multi-disciplinary tapestry of reformation.

The opening sentence of Ron Silliman’s (b. 1946) Albany (1979/80), for example, forms a textual point of departure: “If the function of writing is to ‘express the world'” is boldly emblazoned across the length of the wall. However, like the disjointed nature of the poem – a series of 100 “new sentences” which are intended to stand alone in meaning and function – this new interpretation of the canvas is dissected through the use of other visual and literary sources. Having personally labelled his creative practice as “Black Dada”, the post-war influences can be seen spread throughout the gallery; photography and excerpts from public speeches are carefully layered to create an installation which both unifies and recontexualises individual elements, inviting a new discourse influenced by existing social structures and iconography.

In the adjoining room, two older pieces offer further critical engagement. The almost imperceptible letter camouflaged onto Black Dada/Column (A) (2015) and the obstructed words and pictures cut out of, or into, WE (we are not successive) (2015) demonstrate the discursive possibilities of language, not only in relation to literature but also to communication within contemporary art and political debate as a fluid and synonymous process. Containing the partial view of borders, sentences and cut up linguistics, the pieces almost pertain to a new type of communication, one whichre-assesses the present through a three-dimensional view into the past.

Featuring a quote from Malcolm X, an image of a couple celebrating the Republic of Congo’s independence, references to Dadaism, and an emotive exhibition title, shot him in the face is unquestionably charged with conceptual themes of independence, social justice and instability. However, through the use of myriad materials, considered referencing, carefully curated collage, and the juxtaposition of text and image, Pendleton’s practice avoids the notion of monologue, instead encouraging an active engagement in socio-political debate.

Adam Pendleton: shot him in the face runs until 10 September, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. For more information, visit

1. Adam Pendleton, shot him in the face, Installation view KW Institute for Contemporary Art.
2. Adam Pendleton, WE (we are not successive). 2015. Installation view, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery, New York. Photo: Frank Sperling
3. Adam Pendleton, IF THE FUNCTION OF WRITING 2017 (Detail). Courtesy the artist and Galeria Pedro Cera, Lisbon Dada Dancers (large study), 2017. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery, New York. Installation view shot him in the face at KW Institute for Contemporary Art 2017. Photo: Frank Sperling